Gene Collier: Penguins fans' fuse also shorter this season

Dan Bylsma could not remember what he was so hacked off about the other night on Long Island, or even if he actually was, in point of fact, upset at all.

It was true that he turned to assistant coach Tony Granato behind the Penguins bench somewhere in the middle period to complete what appeared to be a loud, animated sentence that seemed headed for serious gesticulation. It was the same loud and animated sentence he'd originally aimed at Francois St. Laurent or Don VanMassenhoven, both of whom were refereeing Tuesday's appointment with the New York Islanders.

But, when he was asked about this soon after the game, the head coach of the Penguins paused and pondered and posited only this:

"Angry? I don't remember."


You know what? There's a lot of that going around.

Can anyone remember how angry the Penguins fan base was just eight days ago in the wake of an uncomfortable Uptown outcome against those same Islanders?

Remember the booing, the profanity, the vitriol that chased Bylsma's team off the home ice when they allowed this same Evgeni Nabokov to skate from the goal cage with a 4-1 victory and just the thinnest layer of perspiration?

And, even more ominously, that was a crowd sated by free concessions, perhaps the best nutritional proof yet that free burgers, hot dogs, chicken sandwiches, nachos, popcorn, pretzels, salads (salads?) and fountain drinks do not necessarily a contented fan make.

The Penguins' record had been leveled at 3-3 at that moment, and the mania that afflicts the broad Pittsburgh hockey audience, the one with only two psychological settings -- Cup! and No Cup! -- had just slammed hard to the negative.


Same as it had a week earlier after a 5-2 loss against the Toronto Maple Leafs at home.

Once upon a time, it was only Steelers fans who so comically over-reacted to every conceivable indicator, significant or not, misread or not.

Opponent returns opening kickoff of first exhibition game past the 50?

No Super Bowl!

Now it's Penguins fans, and no more demonstrably than in the case of the current convention, hooked on what's barely half a real hockey season compressed into 14 weeks. They go straight to the polarities of their emotions after almost every shift.

So where are they now that the hockey club has churned through four consecutive victories by a combined score of 18-6?

Angry? Can't remember.

When the Penguins left the ice in New York less than 48 hours ago, no NHL team had won more games. A week earlier, Bylsma was considered by a not insignificant portion of the fan base as a candidate to be fired.

Ah, the joys of winter.

Happily enough, the next manic moment is at hand, so it follows that another visceral reaction might well ensue tonight should a solid performance by the underachieving Washington Capitals somehow deliver a third Penguins loss in four home games.

The Capitals look utterly incapable of such at thing, their total of five points being good for 30th in a 30-team league, but, if they steal a couple of points tonight, Penguins Nation morphs almost immediately to Penguins IndigNation.

As for actual Penguins analysis, I should point out here that these mood swings should start to stabilize somewhat due to the way the club's defense has solidified behind Brooks Orpik and the oft-reviled Paul Martin, both of whom have sculpted a clinician's presentation of exactly how to act in front of a goaltender throughout this four-game winning streak.

"Those guys are blocking a lot of shots," said Marc-Andre Fleury after the game Tuesday. "It's fun to see, fun to watch."

For the first time this season, the Penguins allowed more shots than they took the other night, but a penalty-killing unit that went 7 for 7 and a Fleury performance that included 32 saves on 34 opportunities outlasted New York's assault.

So Bylsma scratched from his long-established master schedule the practice slotted for Wednesday, partly in deference to this grinding, contracted schedule, and partly owing to the fact that his Penguins have been awfully close to downright excellent.

They haven't so much as trailed in a game since Jan. 29.

But tonight, as ever, they will take nothing for granted. They are no farther than back-to-back bad periods removed from another blistering by a home audience that has no stomach for disappointment, ever.

And I don't think anybody needs to be reminded that this is the final night for free concessions.

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Gene Collier: First Published February 7, 2013 5:00 AM


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